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Guest Post: Collaboration, Exploiting Social Media and Excuses to Use the Word "Smorgasbord"

posted by Lucy V Morgan on , , ,


Colin wished that saucy Sadie would leave the curtains open again...
British writer Mr. Colin Barnes has been shoehorned out of his cave to chat about using social media to collaborate with fellow authors. In an industry where it's as much who you know as what you know, networking--and collaboration--have never been more important. Prepare yourself for a borgasmord (I can never pronounce that) of Twitter-tastic advice...

    "In the dark days before the internet--you know, those times when people hunkered around fires in oil drums, grilling rats just to get by--writers were lonely creatures scribing away in their filthy unkempt hovels, perfecting their pasty Golem-like complexion. Some in the more posh areas of town might be lucky enough to smell one of their brethren and occasionally share a few words of woe over their latest 'great novel.' Some even luckier ones who had access to a library might find a dusty tome that promised how to make you a bestseller. Writing help was like 70s fashion: grim. 

     Nowadays however, there is a plethora of advice for the budding writer, a smorgasbord of social opportunities from forums to online writing groups to social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and that thing from Google full of cat pictures.  (Ceiling Cat is watching--Lucy).
     The writer no longer needs to be that lonely near-suicidal, opium-smoking fiend. He or she can be an outgoing, gregarious individual of sparkling wit and friendship whilst still slobbing about in three-day-old underpants. This new revolution in connecting with like-minded individuals has bought desperate freaks together in a way that the establishment secretly wishes never happened.
     Indie authors are organizing themselves! No good can come of this! But joking aside, it's a great thing. With the advent of ebooks and affordable means to publish and distribute one's stories, writers are no longer at the mercy of the gatekeepers. I don't want to get into the arguments of whether this is a good thing for quality or not, but instead I'm going to focus on how writers can leverage this new movement for their own benefit.

     This for me is one of the greatest things that have come from the ebook and social media revolution. I no longer have to write in a vacuum and hope for someone to like it. I can actively work with other authors. I can get my work critiqued by fellow writers and interested readers, which means my work improves at a rapid rate. I can fail faster. Online writing groups are worth their bits in gold (if you find a good one).  
     So, other than writing groups, what else can collaboration achieve for the lowly scribe? Exposure is one. By connected with other writers you can form little collectives of talent. You can put out anthologies of your stories so that each of you exposes your work to a potential new audience. As you connect with more writers, and you work together, each of your networks intermingle and you can leverage the readership of your combined audiences.
     Readers don't read just one author. If reader A, we'll call her Stephanie, enjoyed reading the work of Barry Blogs, it's a high chance she'll be interested in the work of Sally Scribbles who works closely with Barry on other projects. If you multiply this effect over a wide range of writers and authors, your readership can grow exponentially, and you network can do the same for others. It's a great big melting pot of incestuous loveliness. I'm doing this very thing with my upcoming horror anthology 'City of Hell Chronicles.' Over time I've got to know some fantastic writers and developed good friendships with them, so, together we have formed this story setting and are going to publish a number of volumes of material.
     Having multiple authors involved with a project means you have multiple promotional outlets, the daunting task of finding readers isn't down solely to you, it's a team effort. You all feed of each other's ideas and you'll be surprised at how effective this can be.  
     Other than exposure, one of the greatest things with collaborating is the support. I have a number of collectives that I belong to, and each one is filled with artists, writers, editors, publishing professionals and various criminals. Not only does this mean that I have a team of people whom I can rely on for help, but also I have a virtual family to keep me sane when things are looking grim. Never discount the emotional benefit of having a virtual family.  
So, how do you find people to collaborate with, and how do you manage collaborative projects? 

     The answer to the first is kind of easy these days. You talk to them. Google search for online writing groups and join a few. Not every one will be a fit for you, so the only way to deal with it is to get stuck and find which ones you gel with. Either way, you'll begin to make friends with people. Once you have started to connect with a few people, talk to them outside of the writing group. That means add them to twitter, add them to your email contacts list, and just talk. Chat about your projects, their projects and every day life.  (But please do not send them pictures of your penis--Lucy).
     The best way I've found to make lasting connections with fellow writers is to offer them help. A few connections that I've made, and ones I now consider close friends, came about because I saw them on twitter having problems with their project and offered to beta-read their work. Always give something of yourself out first before expecting something in return. Help promote someone's book, give them a review (if you like it), just be a good citizen, and you'll make some good friends. I personally find Twitter the easiest way for this, as it's like a persistent chat-room that you can dip in and out of and have some wonderful conversations and get to know others through your current network. It's always growing, organically.

Ok, so you have snared--I mean made--good friends with, some writers and you have an idea of a shared world project, or an anthology or a co-written book, how do you manage it? 
I use three tools:
    www.freeforums.org.  I setup a free forum and make it private so that only the collaborators can use it. This is a great way of communicating details about your project. You can upload work, beta read each other, co-ordinate promotional efforts and generally keep everything together in a tight-nit place. This is the method I use to manage the progress of my City of Hell Chronicles project. There are 7 of us, and anytime I want to communicate something with the group I simple post there and we can discuss it.
    Google Contact List I create a new group specifically for my new tribe/project. I also start a folder/label to keep all the emails together. This means things like sourcing artwork, soliciting outsides services can all be kept together to make managing it easier. It also means that if I want to send an email to the whole group, it's easy. Once all the email addresses in the 'to' box, it makes it easy for each person to 'reply to all' to keep the conversation manageable.
    Twitter For me this is a real lifesaver. Not only is the quickest way to reach some people but it's also a great way of meeting new ones and promoting your project. There are plenty of other articles that can do a better job than I in explaining the best way to use it, but I personally add anyone I'm interested in, and place them into organized lists. This makes managing the timeline and stream of tweets easy to deal with.  Everyday I meet someone new, and its just a great immediate way to talk to people. If I have something to discuss about a project, and one of my contributors is on twitter, I'll often discuss it quickly and easily there rather than email.  
     So there were have it: a brief discussion on how to use social media to create a crapadipoo (© Anne Michaud) amount of collaborative projects and contacts. I hope you found it useful. The main thing to remember with any of this stuff is just be friendly. Douches aren't welcome anywhere. Put out more than you receive (which is great advice for in the bedroom as well as writing), (evidently Colin takes it like a man--Lucy) and actively look to help and promote others, you'll get the karma back in the future. Build up that bank of trust and friendship first, as that is more important than a few sales. Good luck...and put some clean pants on."

Colin Barnes is currently excelling in anthologies. After co-authoring the crime-tastic Killing My Boss with the best-selling  Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff, he is now working on horror stories for City of Hell Chronicles, his new collaborative project. You can stalk him on Twitter as @Colin_Barnes, where he brags about narrowboat holidays and says bitter things about his degree. (It's also his birthday, so go say hi!)


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